As I mentioned, Becky and I went to see the re-release of Captain EO at Epcot Center. The first thing you see on screens outside the theater for Captain EO Tribute is, as the voiceover carefully points out, “the original introduction, exactly as it appeared in 1986.” This let’s you know the movie itself is as dated as Aqua Net Hairspray.
Seeing video from the eighties (and I mean genuine eighties, not The Wedding Singer or Blow) is like watching Japanese games shows- there’s an I-can’t-possibly-be-seeing-what-I’m-seeing splendor to the whole enterprise that makes it hilarious and cringe-inducing all at once. I offer one example, a man who we assume is a formerly-human victim of the Supreme Leader. Sentenced to be a robot frozen into a pillar, he’s struck with the awesome power of Caption EO’s love / song / life force and transformed - much to his astonishment - into this guy:
|I'm like, totally human again. Let's dance about it!|
As a film, the in-theater smoke and lighting effects were precursors to 4D films like Muppet Vision 3D, It’s Tough to be a Bug, and Honey, I Shunk the Audience. The design of the Supreme Leader, an unrecognizable Angelica Huston suspended in cables as a kind of cybernetic spider, led directly to Star Trek’s Borg Queen. A few years removed from Thriller, the moves are very zombie-dancerific, and we get to see Michael Jackson's signature Moonwalk.
The thing is, my inner thirteen-year-old didn’t care about the film; he cared about the phenomenon.
When EO first came out in 1986, it was what The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is to Universal today. People didn’t buy tickets to Magic Kingdom to see Magic Kingdom, they bought tickets to Magic Kingdom because it was the only way to get into Tomorrowland and watch Michael Jackson as Captain EO. Many people waited for hours, watched the show, then got back in line to wait for the next showing. Some extra-dedicated fans - probably the same ones who petitioned for Caption EO’s return - spent entire days at the Magic Kingdom that way.
I was a month shy of turning fourteen, living in Syracuse. We were not poor, but my family didn't have money to travel. Every night for weeks, news footage showed lines of people waiting to get into Captain EO. Looking at still frames in the newspaper, watching the making-of documentary, listening to the few classmates who had been say it was better than Thriller, I knew the movie itself was something I’d never see. Eventually Jean Claude Van Damme made Bloodsport, and I stopped caring.
|Bring me EO, and I will punch him.|
I’m so glad I finally got to see Captain EO. Watching Michael Jackson boss a team of robots and fuzzy aliens around (the only crew who could believably take orders from him anywhere outside of a recording studio), wake up from a space crash covered in garbage composed entirely of fake rubber food (most expensive film per-minute at the time and plastic eggs-over-easy is the best you’ve got?), and seeing magical dance moves transform menacing robots into extras from an Olivia Newton John video was the hilarious high point of my day.
Does that mean I didn’t miss much? I don’t know. Had I gone in 1986, my gawky, braces-wearing, mullet-sporting boy-child would have loved every frame of Captain EO. I would have dressed as Captain EO for halloween, and been every bit as believable a Space Captain as Michael Jackson.
Except I can’t Moonwalk.